After studying percussion at the Hogeschool der Kunsten in Arnhem, Courbois left for Paris, the center of jazz in Europe in the early 1960s. He worked with pianist Kenny Drew, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, saxophonists Eric Dolphy, Ben Webster, Stan Getz, and Johnny Griffin, and guitarist René Thomas.
Courbois was one of the first musicians in Europe to experiment with free jazz. In 1961 he became the drummer and leader of the (Original Dutch) Free Jazz Quartet. In 1965 he started another group, the Free Music Quintet, composed of international musicians. He also played and recorded with Gunter Hampel's Heartplants Group with Manfred Schoof and Alexander von Schlippenbach.
In 1969 Courbois founded the first European jazz-rock group, Association P.C. This famous ensemble, winner of the Down Beat poll, existed until 1975 with Toto Blanke, Sigi Busch, different keyboardists, including Jasper van 't Hof, Joachim Kühn and Sigi Kessler. In 1982 he founded New Association with Heribert Wagner, Ben Gerritsen and Ferdi Rikkers. He has also played with the pianists Mal Waldron, and Rein de Graaff, horn players Willem Breuker, Hans Dulfer and Theo Loevendie, and Ali Haurand's European Jazz Quintet with Gerd Dudeck, Leszek Zadlo and Alan Skidmore.
In 1992 Courbois started a quintet under his own name and for the first time in his career performed pieces all composed by himself. This ensemble pleasantly surprised both the critics and the public with a return to the Charles Mingus tradition - thematic, melodic ensemble jazz and an experimentation with linear improvisation.
In 1999 he founded the Double Quintet and in 2003 the Five Four Sextet, with Eric Vloeimans, Ilja Reijngoud, Jasper Blom, Paul van Kemenade, and Niko Langenhuijsen.
He is still playing with Jasper van 't Hof in a trio called "Cour-Hof" with Barend Courbois on bass guitar. Also with Polo de Haas in the "Gong-Duo", sometimes with Kittie Courbois as guest.
During the 1994 North Sea Jazz Festival the Bird Award, the highest award in the Dutch Jazz World, was bestowed upon Courbois. Since 2000 he is Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau and in 2008 he received the VPRO / Boy Edgar Award.
Nowadays he is playing with his QWINTETT and his SEXTETT: Toon de Gouw - trumpet, Ilja Reijngoud - trombone, Jan Menu - bariton and soprano saxophones, Niko Langenhuijsen - piano, Egon Kracht - double bass and PC compositions and drums.
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- Independence (Timeless, 1984)
With Mal Waldron
- A Little Bit of Miles (Freedom, 1972)
With Joe Vanenkhuizen
- Waltz Hot (Munich, 2002)